CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Just one season removed from an America East men’s soccer championship and a second round showing in the NCAA tournament, the University of Vermont has been chosen to retain its title by the league’s head coaches in the 2008 America East preseason coaches’ poll. The Catamounts earned 60 points and received five first-place votes (coaches were not permitted to vote for their own team), while Binghamton University, the 2007 regular-season champion and tournament runner-up, came in second with 53 points and three first-place tallies.
Boston University, an NCAA participant in 2007, followed closely in third with 51 points. New Hampshire garnered one first-place vote and was picked fourth with 38 points. UMBC was slotted in fifth (35 points) followed by University of Hartford (32), Stony Brook University (29), University at Albany (17) and University of Maine (9) to round-out the nine-team poll.
The top six teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship with the winner of the tournament receiving an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship, where the league champion has advanced to the second round in six of the past seven years.
Vermont (9-10-3 overall record in 2007, 4-2-2 America East record) started last season just 4-9, but rode an eight-game unbeaten streak through the conference tournament, including seven straight shutouts, and into the second round of the NCAA Championship. Seven starters and 21 players return for the Catamounts, including a trio of all-conference performers: junior forward T.J. Gore, senior goalkeeper Roger Scully and senior back Connor Tobin. Scully, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2007 America East Championship, became just the second keeper to hold opponents scoreless throughout the tournament (Vermont’s Jim St. Andre, 1989). Tobin leads a defensive backfield that along with Scully allowed just three goals in 10 games against league foes in 2007. Gore will pace the offensive attack, along with seniors Lee Stephane Kouadio and Jordan Crasilneck, who combined contributed eight of Vermont’s nine game-winning goals last season.
Binghamton (14-6-0, 5-3-0) reached the finals of the America East Championship for the fifth straight season in 2007, before falling to the Catamounts, 1-0, in the title game. The Bearcats bring back 19 letterwinners and nine starters from their regular-season champion squad. Junior Cameron Keith, the 2007 Striker of the Year, will lead the way after pacing the league with 22 points and 10 goals last season. He was named to the MAC Hermann Trophy preseason watch list as a nominee for the national player of the year award earlier this week. Keith will be helped on the offensive end by seniors Justin Leskow (3 goals, 5 assists in 2007) and Barry Neville (2 goals, 5 assists), a first-team all-conference selection in 2007. The Bearcats also return junior goalkeeper Jason Stenta, who led the league in goals against average (0.59), save percentage (.848) and shutouts (12) last season.
Last season, Boston University (9-7-4, 3-2-3) became the first America East school to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship since 1996. The Terriers, who faced five teams ranked in the RPI Top 20 and dealt Brown its only regular-season loss, fell to national semifinalist Massachusetts, 2-1 in the NCAA first round. The Terriers bring back nine starters, including first-team all-conference standout Shaun Taylor, who was tied for fourth with five goals in 2007. Rookie of the Year Aaron O’Neal will help also help pace the attack. O’Neal ranked third in the league with 16 points and found the back of the net six times, three of which were game-winners.
New Hampshire (5-5-9, 2-1-5) advanced to the semifinals of the America East Championship for the second straight year in 2007 on the back of its defense. The Wildcats were second among conference leaders with a 0.70 goals against average, but were only eighth in the league offensively, scoring 0.58 goals per game. UNH hopes junior forward Chris Banks can return to form in 2008. The 2006 America East Striker and Rookie of the Year made just six starts and missed seven games due to injury last season.
In 2007, UMBC (8-7-5, 3-3-2) made its third appearance in the America East Championship in the last five years. The Retrievers return 21 players, including eight starters from that squad that tied for second in goals per game (1.30) and ranked third in GAA (0.71) last season. UMBC’s top five scorers, who combined for half of its 26 goals a year ago, will all be back led by second-team all-conference choice Kevin Gnatiko (4 goals, 4 assists). All-rookie selection Chris Williams, who started all 20 games in his first collegiate season, will lead the defense, along with senior goalkeeper Steve King, who recorded nine shutouts and a 0.72 GAA in 2007.
Hartford (7-4-7, 2-1-5) will be in search of its first men’s soccer title since 1999 after bowing out in the quarterfinal round last season. The Hawks will have to replace the output of five all-conference performers, including Matt Glaeser, the 2007 Goalkeeper of the Year, and Andreas Blamo, a second-team selection, who will miss the upcoming season with an injury. Junior Kevin Hall, who ranked eighth in America East in goals per game last year, will lead the attack, along with all-rookie performer Jamie Thomas.
Stony Brook (9-7-3, 3-4-1), the 2005 champion, looks to return to the America East Championship after a two-year hiatus. The Seawolves will need to replace the production of 2006 Midfielder of the Year Michael Palacio, a three-time first-team all-conference performer. Sophomore Mark Secko is coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he tallied three points in 19 games and earned all-rookie honors.
Albany (3-10-4, 2-3-3) missed the America East Championship for the first time in four years last season. Among their returnees, the Great Danes bring back experience in the backfield in senior Erik DiLorenzo (49 career starts) and senior goalkeeper Steward Ceus (47 career starts). All-rookie selection Ian Peach will also be back for his sophomore season.
Maine (3-13-1, 1-6-1) notched its first conference win since 2005 last season and looks to return to the conference tournament for the first time since 2003. The Black Bears bring back eight starters, including their leading scorer, senior Dimitri Anastasiou, who finished 2007 tied for sixth among league leaders with four goals.